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   Thursday, June 09, 2005  
It's a bit selfish I know but some acts you just don't want to get any bigger. Like M. Ward, for instance. reallyrather took in two shows back-to-back last week, the first at The Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith where he topped the first of two Twisted Folk nights; an almost full-house at this glorious tiered old emporium. The big stage and serious lighting seemed to bring out a bit of the rock star in Ward - there was some distinct swinging off the mic, fronting the band stuff going on. And pretty satisfying is was too in a Crazy Horse kind of way. But even in quieter solo numbers a seeming need to project/perform drained some the warmth and intimacy from his sound. This blog certainly remembers no tingling, eye-moistening moments, unlike the next night in the small square room at South Street in Reading where gorgeousness (and more) abounded.
Here, the mood was set from the first as Ward at the piano led the band [only Adam, Rachel & Zak aka Norfolk & Western!] through Santo & Johnny's eternally evocative instrumental, Sleepwalk. Ward remained on the stool for another two or three songs including a trascendent Undertaker, his plinking fills on the upright and honeyed croak riding the most lilting of melodies. Intoxicating stuff (and, despite his fretworthy renown, it was maybe the piano that contributed to the difference this night).
The old-timey '78 record' spirit of One life away was sublimely recreated with just spare guitar and Ward and Rachel Blumberg's harmonised vocals. These and sundry other little gems like Fool says tumbled from the shadow beneath Ward's baseball cap, their almost throwaway concision making this game seem deceptively easy.
The two nights' setlists highlighted his songbook's embarrassment of riches: the Lyric audience heard Fuel for fire and Outta my head, Reading the marvellously touching O'Brien from End of Amnesia. Still, space was found a bunch of intruiging covers - Creedence, Bowie.. Johann Strauss! Yep, the Radetzky March which then morphed into that overly-familiar Scott Joplin rag. You just can't keep a good tune down.
With excellent opening support from Norfolk & Western (Adam Selzer and Rachel Blumberg showcasing new album If Your Were Born Overseas and their broadening, rockier palette), the Reading show had pretty much all this blog could ask for of a live show - expansion, subtlety, surprise, humility. A joy, quite simply... was, in it's own dinky D-I-Y way, The Diskettes free turn at Catch in Shoreditch one night last week. Backpacking around Europe and singing for their supper, The Diskettes are Canadians David, Emily & Maggie and lo-fi beach campfire doo-wop with a dash of bossa is what they do. And reallyrather is sold. It's delightfully guileless and minimalist stuff; imagine The Pipettes getting together with Little Wings and making babies.
David strums and sings, Emily sings and shakes things and Maggie drums. What? There's no drumkit? No worries...a couple of cardboard boxes with a vocal mic rested on top will do...and they did! Their voices are plain but perfectly good enough and they romp through a string of authentic, handclaptastic originals many of which are taken from their latest release, Weeknights at Island View Beach. There's uptempo gems on there like Cabin by the sea, Jump up and 12345; calmer twinklers like Museum and Close friends go and a 'standard'-sounding guitar instrumental called Cowichan knit. Basically, if you have a weakness for that '50s vocal group thing and value spiritedness and the 'let's have a go' aesthetic, buy it (and the one before) - you can't go wrong...
The Diskettes / buy

Meanwhile, back at The Lyric Theatre...
On just before M. Ward was San Francisco alt-folk combo Vetiver feat. Devendra Banhardt amongst their number. And tho' there were some good moments rr was mostly non-plussed by their Band-meets-Little Feat stylings. To this blog's way of thinking, band leader Andy Cabic and guitarist Kevin Barker are put to better use when lending a hand on James William Hindle's third album, Town Feeling.
Hindle's previous full-band effort, Prospect Park, was a delight which would've been enjoyed by far more folks than ever got to hear it. He reunites most of the team from that record back at Gary Olson's studio where they've succeeded in recreating the warm honest tones while distinctly refining the Hindle sound. Which is what, exactly? Well, a sort-of mellow-toned, open-hearted folk-pop thing; a mid-point between Denison Witmer and.. Josh Rouse, maybe? But English. A Yorkshireman making much of his music in the States, Town Feeling has the lightness of a transatlantic paper dart.
Well, most of it does. The opener's a bit of a mis-step to this blog's way of thinking, it's country plod Americana lacking the spryness of what follows. But then Silence kicks off a 7-track winning spree, a brisk 'n' breezy tune replete with pattering drums and trumpet and tambourines. Ah, tambos, harmonies and brevity, some of reallyrather's favourite musical things; cue the 1m 20s of Sleeping still.
Hindle seems generally quite an optimist (see smiley album cover portrait) and the chord changes in Birthday candles are the closest we get here to anything approaching moodiness. Lyrically, much of it boils down to spare, uncomplicated (puppyish?) expressions of affection for whomsoever. And just at the point you think this could get a bit cloying up pops a perky banjo solo (Love you more).
And all of the instrumental fills are spot-on; Hindle and co. have a sure sense of just how much is enough. Dark is coming, Seven hours and Jamie are all fine slices of mid-tempo sweetness characterised by sympathetic ensemble playing and a pervading and wholly admirable modesty. Town feeling is 34m 25s long; a couple of songs don't quite fit and this blog skips them but it's nevertheless an uncomplicated 'buy' recommendation...
James William Hindle / buy

It's onwards and upwards for Rilo Kiley. They're now unequivocally 'major label' having signed up to Warners who are set to give More adventurous a bit of a relaunch. Next stop Madison Square Gardens?! Well, yes actually...opening for C*ldplay...

Not everyone's convinced by Rilo's recent twangly stylings but those for whom it makes perfect sense might want to check out the life-enhancing debut album from Brit mob The Boy Least Likely To. A cheery seven-piece referencing allsorts from Harry Nilsson to Dexy's, they sent reallyrather away from The Windmill last night feeling distinctly chipper...
The Boy Least Likely To

...and the same venue promises to repeat the trick on Friday when Language of Flowers headline and again on July 3 when Aussie indie popsters Architecture in Helsinki arrive mob-handed (there's eight of 'em) for the all-day BBQ. Home from home and all that...
Architecture in Helsinki

And just when you think things can't get much better the postman arrives with the new Sufjan Stevens. Lordy, lordy...
   posted by SMc at 11:17 AM |